In the first debate of the 2020 presidential election season, President Donald Trump openly mocked his opponent former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing a mask and following COVID-19 safety protocols.

“I don’t wear a mask like him,” Trump said. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from [you] and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”

Just over 48 hours later, Trump confirmed he had tested positive for COVID-19.

While it would have been understandable and maybe even justified for Biden to lash back at the president, he showed true class by refusing to kick his fallen opponent in his moment of weakness. This is a mentality I believe all of us should have, regardless of our political party or support of President Trump. After all, it has always seemed since the beginning of this pandemic that the resident was immune to this disease.

At Gonzaga, we also believed we would be safe from the virus. While most students were complying with policies such as mask wearing around campus, enough people were disobeying those policies that online groups such as @zagsunmasked felt they needed to take immediate action to prevent an outbreak. At that time, we were living in a era of theories and hypotheticals, where COVID-19 was a matter of politics and not existence.

In the same way Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis was a game changer for the nation, the recent peak of 28 currently confirmed cases was also a game changer for GU. Whispered stories of midnight quarantines and half-empty halls began to circle affected dorms with no official word of the virus’ current location coming from GU leadership. Those affected, even those not infected, returned chastened by the experiences of missed classes, health scares and utter isolation.

GU’s response to the pandemic has been nothing short of admirable. Weekly tests of hundreds of students have helped identify and contain outbreaks when they are small. The edition of new plexiglass dividers on tables in the COG has helped to provide a safer eating experience for Zags on campus.

That being said, there is still too much fear of and stigma associated with COVID-19. While it is always hard to see anyone, especially the president, suffering from a health condition as severe as COVID-19, a disease which he is at the greatest risk of dying from, we must remember his continued efforts to associate the virus with the nation of China and its people.

In some places, his words were seen for the xenophobic rhetoric they were; in others, Asian Americans and other people of color faced harsher discrimination after being associated with the virus.

The trickle-down effect this has had on the perception of those with the virus, even those who are neither Asian American nor a person of color, has thus been detrimental. At GU, the most positive cases we ever saw at one time was 28, meaning most people could look at those statistics and dismiss COVID-19 as “happening to someone else.”

In a sense, it is very relieving to know that GU leadership has refused to release the names of those who are ill, we should not begin to fight their identities instead of their illness.

However, unless we fully realize just how dangerous COVID-19 is, testing is trivial, masks are meaningless and socially distancing is simply demonstrating that we know how to follow rules when others are watching.

Even if we hit zero current positive cases, someone who refuses to take COVID-19 seriously could easily walk downtown and bring the virus back to campus. In other words, as long as we refuse to respect the deadly power of COVID-19, we will never see the end of this pandemic on our campus.

What I propose is this: let us — each and every one of us — openly share how COVID-19 has affected our lives. For me, it is sad to know that I can’t see my parents’ smiles when they come to visit, that they can’t give me a hug when I most need it.

It’s terrifying to know that COVID-19 was found in my dorm, and as sad as I was to see it go, I had to put an end to game nights in our lobby so that I could keep my friends and I safe.

I know that others have lost more than I have. Many have lost money, food security, jobs and loved ones. One million people have lost their lives worldwide.

We should be telling each other these stories in order to remind ourselves of what we are truly struggling against. Let us remind ourselves that it is not about who has the virus, but about how many who have been damaged or killed by COVID-19.

And let us not for one moment think we’re invincible, for in the words of comedian Trevor Noah, “If the president of the United States can get the coronavirus, then what excuse do the rest of us random a**holes have for not wearing a mask?”

Red Kwenda is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter at @RedKwendaWriter

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